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Interview with Marc Silver

HBO: How did you first hear about the Jordan Davis case?

Marc Silver: At the very beginning I said to both Lucy and Ron [Jordan?s parents], if you ever feel uncomfortable with me being in the space with you, just give me the ?cut? gesture. You don?t have to explain anything or justify it, I?ll just leave the room. Amazingly, they never did. And particularly with Lucy?we discussed this a lot?it was almost therapeutic. I think because I was outside of her circle, she almost used the camera?in the best sense of the word?to express things that she otherwise couldn?t say.

HBO: How did you establish the level of trust with Jordan?s family and friends?

Marc Silver: At the very beginning I said to both Lucy and Ron [Jordan?s parents], if you ever feel uncomfortable with me being in the space with you, just give me the ?cut? gesture. You don?t have to explain anything or justify it, I?ll just leave the room. Amazingly, they never did. And particularly with Lucy?we discussed this a lot?it was almost therapeutic. I think because I was outside of her circle, she almost used the camera?in the best sense of the word?to express things that she otherwise couldn?t say.

HBO: How did you select the assets you considered essential to tell the story?

Marc Silver: I didn?t want to make a reconstruction of what happened. And sitting through the trial, I just felt like it?s a fascinating space to sit in. You?ve got the prosecutor and the defense, and at times it felt like whoever was able to tell the best narrative would win.

We actually did request interviews with Michael Dunn, Rhonda Rouer and his family a few times, but they declined to be interviewed. Now I look back, and I?m sure we get a deeper sense of the truth via those phone calls than we probably ever would have by doing a face-to-face interview.

There was also something about Jordan being absent. How do you build his character in his absence? So I started looking at the assets we had: the TV footage, the interviews, the gas station footage, the old family videos of Jordan as a baby. Filming the trial, I thought maybe there?s a way to put the audience in the space that the jury was in. By dropping in certain information, essentially via the same evidence the police had, I think forces the audience to reflect on their own potential biases.

HBO: As a filmmaker and storyteller, do you see this as a political film?

Marc Silver: I was very keen not to hit people over the head with the politics side of it. I wanted people to come to that conclusion themselves. At the very heart of it, it?s one person?s story, or a story about one person. But of course there are different layers, particularly with Michael Dunn. As everything else was unfolding in the U.S., from Ferguson onwards, Michael Dunn became this symbol to me of how certain parts of America are also na�ve to their own racism. We realized that the DNA of what happened in those 3 � minutes was the same DNA in all these other shootings, which is essentially unarmed black young men being killed by armed white men claiming fear. The film, of course, is political, but I think in a sense it becomes political because of everything else that is happening in the U.S. The story itself is hugely personal.

HBO: You?ve mentioned a distinction between the forensics of what happened and how the case stands metaphorically?can you explain?

Marc Silver: I think maybe the easiest way to answer that is by looking at the defense lawyer. You can delve deeply into what happened?did Jordan open his door? Was there a gun? But I realized that delving into these questions in detail doesn?t actually lead to a truth. Even to the point where race wasn?t to be discussed in the courtroom, because it wasn?t identified as a hate crime. So even though you?re digging into every single millimeter of detail of the case, the biggest thing that everybody else in the courtroom knows isn?t part of that forensic examination.

Ironically, all of that is going on in a courtroom where the big seal of Florida is hanging above the judge?s head, speaking about in God we trust. You look around the room, and you?re like ?God, I don?t even know who to trust?or what to trust!? It became necessary, if you like, to start thinking about the film in terms of details that could be manipulated versus truths that were never spoken about.

HBO: What is Florida?s ?Stand Your Ground? law?

Marc Silver: It basically exonerates people based on what you might think was going on in their head, rather than anything that?s factually provable. And I understand as a jury member, the law would allow me to basically guess what was going on in the killer?s head and then give me the means to excuse a killer?s actions based on the fear that the killer described pre-shooting.

HBO: Both your earlier documentary Who Is Dayani Cristal? and 3 � Minutes detail the story of a dead individual whose identity is subject to debate. Is there something in particular about questions of identity that interest you?

Marc Silver: For me personally, there was definitely a link between these two films and the way they?re both, essentially, young men who were deemed a threat for one reason or another. It wasn?t necessarily like those links are overt, but they?re a driving force for me. For the last 10 to 15 years, I?ve been interested in this idea of how the ?Other? is constructed and the power structures around those constructions?also, in the disparity between where laws and decisions are made and how far away they are from the people that they actually affect. And I?m interested in this idea of being able to home in on a really small, beautiful human story that in its depth can allude to that much bigger subject. The power of human drama sometimes teaches us more than facts and figures, or at least inspires us to then go and find out about the facts and figures.